Sunday, 1 September 2013

Future Curators hit the North-East: Visiting the Great North Museum and Durham's Oriental Museum

One of the GNM: Hancock displays
Despite living within spitting distance of the north-east for the past 27 years I had never visited Newcastle or Durham, so I was particularly happy when a Future Curators visit was arranged this week. After a tour of their stores we visited the Great North Museum: Hancock and I made a bee-line for their Egyptian galleries. The GNM's Egyptian collection is made up partly of their own objects and also of a long-term loan from the British Museum. The gallery was arranged thematically which in most cases worked well, typically splitting the gallery into aspects of life and death in ancient Egypt. 

Visitors heading into the Afterlife interactive
Signing and video accompaniment
Snakes in the Underworld
The way the museum did this however was pretty innovative: after visiting the 'life' part of the gallery, the visitor passes through an interactive doorway into the next life on the condition that they successfully pass through the dangers of the underworld. We visited at the end of the day when the gallery was quiet and the experience was a bit disconcerting, especially when the snakes slither past! A booming voice reads through the tasks while a computer screen with signing and subtitles for those hard of hearing, making it a meaningful and memorable experience for all visitors. The collection itself contains several important pieces and overall I enjoyed the layout and design of the gallery though I would have liked to see more information on the object labels, particularly provenance and accession number, and the gallery also had a number of other interactive stations but unfortunately some of these were out of order so I look forward to using them on my next visit.

Durham Oriental Museum
Sphinx of Tuthmosis IV
We then trekked to Durham's Oriental Museum where we were greeted by friendly staff and a beautiful museum, not so large in size but with an incredibly important Egyptian collection. Two galleries are named after Prof. T. W. Thacker, Director of Oriental Studies at Durham from the 1940s until 1977 and contain objects acquired from the Duke of Northumberland's Collection (Prudhoe Collection), the Wellcome Collection and from the sponsorship of fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan during the 1950s and 1960s. 

Steatite statuette of Amenhotep III
The overall layout of the galleries and use of the space was appealing; each object is relevant to the thread of the collection story and several key pieces were exhibited in their own cases, well-lit, as highlight objects, including my personal favourite - a glazed steatite statuette of Amenhotep III from his memorial temple at Kom el-Heitan, Thebes (EG 3998). I was also pleasantly surprised to learn that a diorite sphinx of Tuthmosis IV on display (EG 3997) was the inspiration for the two bronze sphinxes flanking Cleopatra's Needle on the Embankment in London. And of course it was a pleasure to finally see the beautiful wooden servant girl; probably the most famous Egyptian object in the whole collection (EG 4007; temp. Amenhotep III).

Throughout the museum the panels were word-heavy which I don't think is necessarily a bad thing for a University Museum, though I found myself sticking with the object labels provided as laminated handouts next to each case; a technique which I would normally question as it can sometimes make finding the objects rather time-consuming, however it worked very well as most cases were not particularly full and the labels contained a lot of useful information. 
Snippet of the 'Satire of the Trades' alongside ancient Egyptian tools
I also enjoyed the use of snippets of Egyptian literature in some of the cases, which added interest and helped to bring the objects to life for visitors. I think my only bugbear was the lack of Sudanese objects on display from their collection, or when they were on display (e.g. a vessel from Buhen) the provenance was not named. Overall though definitely worth a visit and happy to have had the opportunity to spend an afternoon in the galleries and have a chat with the staff of the museum.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Visiting West Park Museum, Macclesfield

This week I visited West Park Museum in Macclesfield on an afternoon trip with my
West Park Museum
supervisor Campbell to see their collection of Egyptian objects. West Park's small but well formed Egyptian collection came into being because of a Miss Marianne Brocklehurst, the child of a wealthy silk manufacturer in Macclesfield and a lady with a keen interest in all things ancient Egyptian. 

Miss Brocklehurst travelled around Egypt with her companion Mary Booth, and the pair became known as the 'MBs'. They had a keen eye for high-quality Egyptian objects and had the opportunity to acquire a personal collection when they also had the chance of making use of their contact with Luxor's infamous Abd el-Rassoul family from whom they bought a number of objects including this ring preserving the cartouche of Ramesses II. 
Ring with the cartouche of Ramesses II
Miss Brocklehurst was also a friend of Amelia Edwards (the founder of the Egypt Exploration Fund, now Society) and subsequently became a member and donor of the EES, forming a Macclesfield Branch of the EES with Mary Booth as secretary. As a result of her membership Miss Brocklehurst received a portion of the excavated objects with secure contexts which complemented her own personal Egyptian collection. 

West Park Museum was built in 1898 at the instruction of Miss Brocklehurst but unfortunately she became ill and died before she was able to visit the museum herself. From museum records it is clear that Miss Brocklehurst's Egyptian collection was donated and exhibited at West Park from the very beginning, and now forms an integral part of West Park's modest collection of ancient objects, anthropology, natural history and fine art.  

One of the most important Egyptian objects at West Park is this beautiful steatite statuette of Queen Tiye, Great Royal Wife of pharaoh Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BC) depicting the queen standing, wearing an enveloping wig and vulture headdress which may originally have been fronted with two uraei. She holds a flywhisk in her left hand and a lotus in her right, and the back pillar preserves her name: Hmt-nsw wrt Tyy (Great Royal Wife, Tiye). This object is truly a masterpiece and I was very lucky to have had the privilege of handling and examining it on my visit. 

The West Park Museum may be small, and perhaps a little out of the way, but it is definitely worth a visit and you will be rewarded with a beautiful collection of Egyptian objects including several outstanding unique pieces, together with a CD ROM catalogue of the Egyptian collection which you can purchase from the museum shop. I'd like to thank Honorary Curator of West Park, Alan Hayward, for his generosity and for facilitating access to the collection.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Catching the Trade Winds: Photographing my Travels

I'm going to share more of the photos that I take of Egypt and Sudan, as well as photos of museum visits in the UK and Europe, using Picasa albums. To start this off: my visits to the Temple of Amenhotep III at Soleb, Sudan, and the Neues Museum in Berlin. All images taken with an Olympus E320 DSLR. You can find the links to the images to the left in a folder named "Albums: Egypt and Sudan".

You may also like to watch this short BBC Timewatch video featuring Soleb Temple.
Yan Tan Tethera: A rhyme derived from a Brythonic Celtic language used by shepherds to keep sheep in many parts of England and Southern Scotland.

Until the Industrial Revolution, the use of traditional number systems was common among shepherds, especially in the Dales of the Lake District.

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